News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
Texas Board Rejects Text; Cites Errors, Political Bias
The Texas state school board has rejected one environmental-science textbook from its list of approved materials, but accepted another after the publisher agreed to changes.
The 10 Republicans on the 15-member board maintained that there were factual errors in the books and that they also contained political and religious bias.
Jones & Bartlett Publishers doesn't plan to alter Environmental Science: Creating a Sustainable Future, which the board rejected on a party-line vote Nov. 9.
The Texas Education Agency had recommended the college-level book as an Advanced Placement text. Michael Stranz, the editor in chief of the Sudbury, Mass., publisher, denied that the book has factual errors. "It's our position that this is an editorial decision on [the board's] part," he said.
But Peggy Venable, the director of the Texas branch of Citizens for a Sound Economy, a group that led the protest, said the book, for example, accused Christianity of contributing to an environmental crisis.
On another 10-5 vote, the board approved Environmental Science: How the World Works and Your Place in It after its publisher, J.M. LeBel Enterprises of Dallas, agreed to address board members' concerns.
Board member Mary Helen Berlanga, who voted in the minority said, "Let the schools decide."
While voting with the majority, board member Chase Untermeyer nonetheless was prompted by the controversy to call for a review of the approval process.
—Jessica L. Sandham
Arizona School Aid Off-Limits
Arizona lawmakers, who began a special legislative session last week that was called to bridge a $1.6 billion projected budget deficit, have been warned: Don't touch one cent for K-12 education.
Some legislators have suggested trimming school aid to help close the projected deficit in the state's two-year budget, which goes through 2003.
But an opinion released Nov. 12 by state Attorney General Janet Napolitano said that last year's Proposition 301 sales-tax increase for education was off the table because of a state a law prohibiting the legislature from tampering with voter-approved referendums.
Proposition 301 also bars the legislature from using the new revenue to replace other education aid, the attorney general added.
Gov. Jane Dee Hull, a Republican, had also warned the lawmakers that education was off-limits.
Her own $1.56 billion plan to close the deficit included no K-12 cuts.
"I'm not about to create [Proposition 301] on one hand and then turn around and take money from the classroom with the other hand," Gov. Hull said in a speech to the legislature. "I won't do that and, legally, neither should you."
The governor also reminded legislators they will have to deal with a federal judge's order to spend more on education for English language learners.
—Darcia Harris Bowman
Fla. Mother Sues for Documents
A Florida mother has filed a lawsuit against the state that seeks access to documents related to her son's standardized-tests.
Betty J. Shields, who lives in Pinellas County in the Tampa Bay area, filed the suit against the Florida Department of Education on Nov. 7. She was not available last week for comment, according to her lawyer's office.
She told a local newspaper, however, that she didn't intend for the case to be viewed broadly. Instead, she simply wanted to see her son's test books and answer sheets.
Ms. Shields told the St. Petersburg Times that her son, an 11th grader, hadn't passed the state's graduation tests, and that she wanted to see where he fell short.
Both the 111,000-student Pinellas County school district and the state education agency denied Ms. Shields' request for the test information, according to the lawsuit.
State officials couldn't be reached for comment.
A letter sent to Ms. Shields explains, however, that test materials are confidential under Florida law. (Read the St. Petersburg Times' story.)
Ala. OKs Evolution Label
Alabama's board of education voted unanimously on Nov. 8 to put a new label inside the covers of new biology textbooks that calls evolution a "controversial theory."
A similar insert was first placed in the state's textbooks in 1996. Some observers suggest, however, that the revised language is not as strong as the previous version.
"The theory of evolution by natural selection is a controversial theory that is included in this textbook," the new four-paragraph insert says. "Instructional materials associated with controversy should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."
Skip Evans, a project director for the Oakland, Calif.-based National Center for Science Education, said Alabama is the only state that his group knows of that uses such a statement. "It's important to understand that they're singling out evolution," he added.
Bradley Byrne, a member of the Alabama board, said, "Our science course of study and all science textbooks teach evolution and evolution only. We've had too much sensationalism on both sides of this issue."
—Erik W. Robelen
Vol. 21, Issue 12, Page 14